Heinrich Schoner (of the legendary Pforzheim, Germany chapter) leads whoever is there to be led in some moose-gloved renditions of German anthems and drinking songs.

The cruise people are getting used to the sight of us. At the least, clean-shaven old men have stopped scowling and shaking their heads as much. And at the most, one woman is on a quest to photograph each of us individually before we hit Anchorage.

Some of the crew – or at least the twenty-somethings employed as dancers, photographers, and other pretty-faced entertainers – even spend their off hours with us singing karaoke or hanging out around the ship. It could be our magnetic personalities, our beards, or the fact that we’re not 60-year-old couples wearing matching sweatshirts with bears and wolves and textured block letters spelling out the word Alaska. Whatever it is, it’s earned us some new pals and some enormously discounted rounds of drinks.

Some folks stop the more outlandish-looking beardsmen – like Jack Passion or the German world champs – and have their husbands snap a photo of them together. And one night a whole audience whipped out their cameras.

Before our first fancy dress-coded Elegant Dinner there was a Captain’s reception in the showroom. Although we didn’t plan it, the promise of free drinks ensured that all of BTUSA materialized there.

Originally the purpose of this was for us to “meet” the ship’s officers: a bunch of sharp-looking full navy blue maritime regalia-clad Italians at the top ranks (as seems to be Carnival’s company-wide practice), and the one distinct, garrulous bald white-suited American Cruise Director.

But while the jazz band still played the entrance music and the front of the room remained invitingly vacant, Captain Phil seized the moment, grabbed the BTUSA banner, hopped up and commandeered the stage, beckoning the beard crew to join him.

A moment later dozens of fancy suits, frilly shirts, and sculpted beards of all present nationalities stood before the audience, lit up by many hundreds of camera flashes. With no other choice, the Cruise Director sauntered up with the mic and asked the audience to welcome our special guests, Beard Team USA, to the Carnival Spirit. As the beards began to dissipate, the band kept playing, so some wives, girlfriends and other female accompaniers climbed onstage for a quick dance.

We had spoken to the ship’s event organizers about having some sort of Beard and Moustache to-do one night, but they were reluctant to change any slots already reserved for beanbag tosses, name-that-tune, hairy chest contests, and other stereotypical cruise entertainment. But it seems the audience’s fervor for this little impromptu celebration sparked their interest.

Still, some people just don’t like us at all.

At lunch the other day, Max and I were seated with eight tablemates, all strangers at least thrice our age. The spunky Texan sisters loved us, and the two retired Pennsylvanian juvenile detention center workers and their wives kept the conversation freely flowing. The Nebraskan couple didn’t talk, but they couldn’t speak English. The Michigan couple, on the other hand, could but just didn’t want to.

Partially, I blame Captain Phil. While making his rounds, he stopped by our table to say hello. We told him we were working on recruiting the Pennsylvanian counselor guy – wearer of a modest white moustache – to Beard Team USA, so Phil joined the fun. He asked the rest of the table, “So why does no one else here have a beard?”

Rather than chuckling like the rest of them, the Michigan man glowered, waited for the pause and spat, “I never grew one, nor do I ever intend to.”

“Oh. Well that’s too bad,” Phil replied, rubbing his massive squareish black full face-pelt. “Did you tell them our motto, guys?” He addressed everyone. “It’s ‘Growing beards for America.’ Don’t you love America?”

The man sat stone-faced. Then, through slightly gritted teeth, he grumbled, “Are you questioning our patriotism?”

“Well: yeah!” Phil fired back. “Because if you did, you’d grow a beard like us and go represent your country at the World Championships!” With a few more words about the website, our plans for later that day, and so forth, Phil headed back to his table.

Other than a few quiet snaps to his wife about the quality of his bacon burger, the man’s subsequent 25 minutes of silence confirmed that, apparently, when it comes to America and/or facial hair, he finds no room for humor. Or that he’s just a smooth-cheeked America-hating pinko scumbag.

Since then, when I run into that guy in the buffet line, I know I can count on a good scowl and a censorious head-shaking. But I don’t let it get to me.

This is Beard Team USA. The colors in these beards don’t run.


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